Are burglar alarms worth it?

Hang on, what's the code again?
“A burglar alarm will serve as a deterrent to potential intruders and provides you with peace of mind, but make sure it’s done properly” Ben Wilson, Gocompare.com
  • | by Kristian Dando

When I got back from my holidays in November last year, I returned to find my house in an impeccable state.

Well, apart from the fact that the front of the burglar alarm in the hallway had been removed from the wall and the wires had been cut using a pair of kitchen scissors.

I feared the worst. But as I entered the living room, I found a note from my friend who’d been making regular visits to my house to feed the cat.

“Hi Kris!” it read. “Hope you had a nice holiday. Just to let you know, there was a bit of a problem with your burglar alarm. Sorry if it’s caused you any bother. Bye!”

Several weeks beforehand, the alarm had decided to go off at 4am without any reason following a power cut, which didn’t exactly endear us to the rest of the street. It looked like the same thing had happened while we were away, leading to my friend’s improvised Mission Impossible-style wire cutting. (By the way, we don’t in any way endorse any DIY alarm tampering. Always strongly consider getting a professional in when it comes to electrics – Safety ed)

No cause for alarm

To be honest, I was pretty pleased when we got an electrician to remove the burglar alarm entirely – it turned out it had been wired wrongly by the last owner of the house, and I didn’t know the code for it. Anyway, the cat would end up setting it off if it was switched on during the day.

But it got me thinking – each time the alarm sounded, not one of our neighbours had come round to see if we were being burgled.

I asked the people of Twitter what they usually did in the event of an alarm going off. The answer, it would seem, is very little.

“My ears prick up if it goes on for a longer time than it'd usually take for someone to turn it off,” said @Petegriffiths.

Meanwhile, @Denialvibes opined: “One step up from a car alarm. Irritated but slightly concerned. Monitor with interest.”

However, the best response probably came from @Kittus: “I pick up a couple of glowsticks and 'large it' until it stops,” he quipped.

So, do burglar alarms even make that much of a difference to the security of our homes?

Using my own home – a fairly typical urban terraced house – as a test, I ran a couple of quotes on Gocompare.com and found barely any difference in the price of buildings and contents insurance with and without various flavours of alarm. Insurance companies, famously anally retentive about risk, don’t really seem that bothered either way.

Indeed, in its latest Focus on Property Crime report, the Office of National Statistics revealed that “no single one of the security devices asked about lowered the risk of victimisation,” but a combination of locking windows and deadlocks “significantly” lowered the risk of a burglary.

Elsewhere, the Straight Statistics blog has argued that by “fitting and maintaining an alarm system… a householder will typically avoid one burglary roughly every 300 years.”

Call in the professionals

Getting the basics right is probably a less expensive and more effective way of improving your home security, but Gocompare.com’s home insurance expert Ben Wilson argues that burglar alarms are worthwhile… providing they’re properly installed and maintained.

“A burglar alarm offers an extra level of security for you, your family and your possessions," he said. "It will serve as a deterrent to potential intruders and provides you with peace of mind, but make sure it’s done properly."

That’s because poorly installed and maintained kit may well prove expensive – and annoying – in the long run.

“Using accredited companies to install and maintain your alarm is a must," said Wilson.

"And if you’ve got a burglar alarm which you have told your insurer about, make sure you’re using it – if you’re robbed and it isn’t armed, it might well invalidate a claim."

Are burglar alarms a worthwhile deterrent? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter or Facebook